Thursday, March 19, 2009

Someone's Always Watching

Today, as I was driving to the school, a van pulled out in front of me, forcing me to slam on my brakes and horn simultaneously.

And I was pissed.

Most of the time, I take it in stride when the drivers around here do these boneheaded things. But every so often, when I'm tired or stressed or aware that I'm alone in the car, I just get so annoyed. And today was one of those days.

So instead of just moving along and forgetting about it, I honked again. The driver started up, but when I honked, he stopped and began rolling down his window.

This just fueled my rage. Seriously? Was he going to yell at me for honking? Not a chance. I turned the wheel hard and screeched around him in the bike lane while he was still rolling his window down. And I did something I never, EVER do.

I flipped him off.

But here's the thing. Just as I was zooming around him and lifting my finger in the air, I saw what he was really doing. He was extending his hand out the window and waving in apology, something you seldom see around here.

Just like that, my anger deflated and I saw the self-important ass that I'd just made of myself. And I've been feeling like a fool ever since.

You see, I'm driving around in a car with plates that identify me not just as a diplomat, but as a U.S. diplomat. Usually, I'm so aware that everything I do, good or bad, reflects on the U.S. as a whole. I'm not just any old person when I'm out there in the world: I'm an American, and MY behavior impacts THEIR views of US.

So I was doubly ashamed to be caught overreacting so.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I get tired of feeling as though I'm being watched all of the time. By the Chinese, by the neighbors, by my own kids. Everything I do seems to matter, if only on a very small stage.

And when I let down my guard, like today, it often ends badly.

Still and all - I think it was about the 5th time I'd been cut off today. The first few times, I managed to mutter under my breath and carry on.

Tomorrow - back to muttering for me.


Jill said... [Reply]

I have been known to lift the finger a time or two... each week here! I can so relate!

When we lived in Oman, it was illegal to give the finger - in fact you could not only be fined, but jailed. We had an Embassy person do it - and the person he fingered followed him all the way back to the Embassy - and the "Powers That Be" punished him quite severely.

That story should remind me to stop - even with my license plates. But it doesn't...

A said... [Reply]

Just the other day an EMB friend had an accident on his bike (crazy to ride one in KL but whatever) the minute he got up off the pavement he let loose with the profanity - then a western hops out of the car, apologizing profusely - then our friend looks down at the guys plates - Dutch dip - whoops! They both had a laugh when our friend said he was sorry he just thought it was a local who would probably have demanded $.

Kelsey said... [Reply]

Your post has actually prompted me to begin writing an entry about representing your country abroad. I'll be sure to link back to you when it's finished.

Your story is definitely entertaining. Thankfully I don't have to worry about *officially* representing the US, but any time you travel, you do so unofficially, like it or not. Americans have a reputation in Korea of being kind of...drunkards, and so I try not to let Koreans I know ever see me drinking. However, one day I was sitting outside a restaurant with some western friends here, and we were drinking beer and soju, and I guess some of my students must have seen me, because the next day at school, when I walked into class, my students all broke out into "Teachaa, teachaa, drinkee drinkee!" and I turned beet red.

Jessica said... [Reply]

I think you could write a book on bad driving stories overseas. Every day it is a struggle not to get angry at the driving.

I once heard a great story about a diplomat who had returned to the states after serving overseas for several years. He was driving on the NJ Turnpike - like a madman - when he was pulled over by a Trooper. He looked up apologetically and said, "Officer, I'm sorry but I've just returned from Kazakhstan (or some place like that)."

The Trooper, stonefaced, looked back and replied: "Well son, you are in New Jersey now."

I loved it because it is so true. You get so used to expecting horrible driving that eventually you adapt to your environment.

Simple Answer said... [Reply]

Ooo. Don't get me started. I'm very embarrassed by the number of times I've muttered 'jackass' while my kids were there. Never mind representing the US. I'm MOM for goodness sakes!

Erin G said... [Reply]

this is why I don't put a fish on my car. I don't want people to associate my bad driving (or my occasional mean gestures) with Jesus. :)

C.C. said... [Reply]

When we lived in Finland, the joke among the Finns was that CD stands for "can't drive" and CDA was "can't drive also"...those Finns flipped us off a lot! I was starting to not worry so much about representing the US about the 100th time we got the finger. I don't think they liked us too much...

Please. Write your own stuff.